It can be rather challenging (and for some, scary) to bathe a newborn for the first time. How do you bath a newborn properly, while trying to keep them comfortable at the same time?

The following steps and advice can help you in your preparation and actual bathing of your newborn. Remember to enjoy the process and bond with your baby!

Bathing a New Born: Preparation

How to bathe a newborn

1. Get everything ready in advance

a. Once baby is in the bath, you will not be able to leave him or her for even a moment, so it is important to set out everything you need before you begin.

b. Gather what you need for the bath itself, including the tub, a cup for pouring water, gentle baby soap, two washcloths, and cotton balls for cleaning baby’s eyes and ears.

c. You can collect a few bath toys for your baby to play with (Optional).

d. Lay out what you will need after the bath, including a towel, a brush or comb, lotion or oil, a diaper, diaper ointment and a clean set of clothes nearby.

e. Until the umbilical cord has fallen off, sponge bathes are probably the easiest way to wash your baby because dry cord care is currently recommended – just leaving the stump alone to let it fall by itself.

Despite what you may have heard, there is no need to use rubbing alcohol to clean your baby’s umbilical cord area if it is still attached.

2. Dress in appropriate clothes

a. Wear something you do not mind getting wet and soapy in.

b. Roll up long sleeves, and remove jewellery like watches, rings, and bracelets.

c. Make sure your clothes do not have zippers or pins that could scratch baby’s skin.

3. Setting up the tub

a. Most baby tubs available are shaped so as to support the infant’s neck and head. They usually have a mat or sling that prevents baby from being completely submerged in water.

Place the baby bath in a clean sink, bathtub, or on the floor, depending on the manufacturer’s instructions.

b. Do not use a full-size adult bathtub to bathe a newborn baby. They are too deep, and it’s difficult to make sure baby doesn’t slip during the bath.

c. If your baby tub does not have a tread on the bottom to keep baby from slipping, line it with a washcloth or a separate bath mat.

4. Fill the tub with a few inches of warm water

a. Run the water and test the temperature. You may use your elbow, wrist or a special bath thermometer to make sure the water is not too hot or cold.

The water should be comfortably warm to the touch, but not as hot as you would prefer for your own bath or shower.

b. If your baby still has his or her umbilical cord attached, simply fill a bowl with water so you can administer a sponge bath instead.

c. Always test the water before placing baby in the bath.

d. When in doubt, err on the cooler side; your hands are rougher than a baby’s sensitive skin, so he or she will feel heat more acutely than you.

e. Do not fill the tub more than a couple of inches. Babies should never be submerged in water. As your baby gets a little bigger, you can add a bit more water, but never enough to come close to submerging baby.

Bathing Your Baby

Washing baby

1. Lay your baby in the tub feet first

a. Keep one hand supporting your baby’s back, neck and head as you carefully lower him or her into the tub.

b. Continue supporting your baby throughout the bath with one hand, and use the other hand to wash him or her.

c. Babies can be very wriggly and slippery, so be very careful once he or she becomes wet.

2. Begin washing baby

a. Use a cup, or your cupped hand, to get baby’s body wet.

b. Use a soft washcloth to gently wash baby’s face, body, arms and legs.

c. Use cotton balls to wipe baby’s eyes and ears.

d. If you wish, you can use a safe baby soap that is very neutral, but it is not necessary; a gentle scrub and wash down are adequate to keep babies clean.

Do not forget to get between all the little creases, behind the ears and under the neck, where spit-up and moisture tend to collect.

e. Use a little baby soap on a washcloth to wash baby’s hands and feet.

f. Clean baby’s genitals last, using a dab of baby soap if you wish. If you have a baby boy who is circumcised, gently wipe him with the wet washcloth.

For girls, wash genitals from front to back to prevent infection.

3. Wash the hair

a. If it is necessary to wash baby’s hair, lean him or her back and gently massage water into the hair and scalp.

b. Use a cup to pour clean water over baby’s head. You can use baby shampoo if desired, but there is really no need. Babies are born with all the natural oils needed to keep the scalp healthy, and shampoos can easily spoil this balance.

c. If you do use baby shampoo, use your hand to protect baby’s eyes from being irritated.

d. Before rinsing, check again to make sure that the temperature of the running water is not too hot.

4. Lifting baby from the tub

a. Support baby’s head, neck, and back with one arm, and hold his or her bottom and thigh with the other.

b. Place baby in a towel, being careful to cover his or her head.

After The Bath

Bathe new born

1. Towel baby dry

a. Dry baby’s body first, making sure to dry gently behind the ears and in the skin folds, so that no excess moisture is left there.

Towel-dry the hair as much as possible.

b. Remember that the fine hair of a baby will dry quickly. Do not use a hairdryer, as it is unnecessary and potentially dangerous.

2. Apply ointments if necessary

a. Dab a little ointment on baby’s diaper rash or circumcision wound, if you have been advised by a doctor to do so.

b. It is alright to apply baby creams, lotions, or oils if you would like to.

c. If your baby still has his or her umbilical cord attached, use a cotton ball or dry sponge to gently dry the area. No need to use rubbing alcohol.

3. Put a nappy on and dress baby

a. If you are about to put your little one down to rest, choose an outfit that is easy to fit on him or her, preferably with snaps instead of buttons.

b. You may also choose to swaddle your baby.

This article is written by Dr Dave Ong, a paediatrician with special interests in allergies, skin conditions and respiratory problems in children. He also has a keen interest in the management of acute infections in children, newborn care and development, feeding problems, and vaccinations.

Dr Ong is now practicing at Kids Clinic @ Punggol (Oasis Terraces #03-11) which is also open on selected weeknights and Sundays.

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